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The IT History Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of knowledge about the people, products, and companies that together comprise the field of computing.

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Computer History Museum: Celebrating 35 Years: Sept 26,2014

Introduction: The Computer History Museum (CHM) marked its 35th birthday on September 24, 2014. Visitors from around the world see an impressive set of exhibits, artifacts and come for the conversations, panel sessions and lectures.   One such panel took place on Sept 26th, with CHM co-founders Gordon Bell (Marlboro, MA 1975) and Len Shustek (Mt View, CA in 1996) presenting the museums history.  The panel was moderated by the indefatigable John Hollar, CHM CEO & President. The CHM timeline can be viewed here. Early History in MA by Gordon Bell: The Museum has come a long way from a coat closet in Massachusetts to the beautiful multi-building permanent facility that today houses engaging exhibits and the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world.  Indeed, the first exhibit was in a converted closet at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) Building 12 in Maynard, MA. In 1979 it officially became an exhibition site operated by DEC in Marlboro, MA.   It was then called the Digital Computer Museum (DCM). Gordon's wife Gwen, compiled the first catalog for the museum in 1981.  It listed all the museums collected artifacts.  Important acquisitions included:  the CDC 6600 mainframe computer, ENIGMA machine (used to encipher and decipher secret messages), pre-computer era artifacts like old giant calculators.  Referring to the catalog, Gordon Bell said,  "there was a collage of stuff we thought was in there (the museum)." He estimated ~ 150 artifacts had been collected at the DCM. "We had a very good relationship with IBM," Mr. Bell said.  "They had a lot of collections," he added.  One of the most impressive ones was core memory, which became the DCMs "symbol." in 1982. the DCM incorporated as The Computer Museum (TCM)  which moved to Boston in 1984, located on Museum Wharf. The museum ran a "Computer Bowl" which was an East-West contest for the best exhibits.  "Sort of like a college football bowl," Gordon said.  The West won most of those contests- about 10 in all. The museum published a book on The Best Software for Kids which was very popular.  Over time, the museum evolved into a children or teenager museum for learning about the history of computing. Gordon showed a museum produced poster chronicling  the first 25 years of the microprocessor evolution. Author's Note: That must've been in the Fall of 1996, as the first commercially available microprocessor -the Intel 4004- was introduced in Fall of 1971. Post 1996 History by Len Shustek: Len vaguely knew of The History Museum in Boston in 1994-95 when he taught a computer class at Stanford (Len has a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford and MS, BS degrees in Physics from Brooklyn PolyTech).  He was surprised to find that computer history had been taken out of the course syllabus.  That was a shame.  He thought at the time:  "There's a history Computer Science students should know about and appreciate." Therefore, Len started writing white papers and began exploring how to start a computer history museum on the west coast, preferably in the SF Bay area where he lived.  After extensive research, he was surprised to find that the only computer museum in the world was the one in Boston, MA.   Len met with Gordon Bell who suggested he be on the Board of Directors of TCM so he could "re-invent it" from a kids museum to one that adults could also appreciate. During a period that spanned parts of 1996 and 1997,  TCM's back room collection was relocated to Moffett Field (Mt View, CA).  It was housed in a building provided by NASA that was previously the Naval Base furniture store.  With Gwen's help, a large number of artifacts were shipped from Boston to Moffet Field where they were stored in dirigible hangers.  Len got a "fork lift drivers license" to move the boxes around, but he never needed to do that.  Thank goodness! A 1996 catalog only included 25% of the contents of the boxes that had been shipped. The first exhibit was visible storage.  Getting museum visitors was a challenge at Moffet Field.  A SF Examiner article referred to the museum as a "visible storage warehouse." Len and others thought that the museum should be housed outside of Moffet Field, even though NASA had planned to give two acres of land for a newly built CHM.  But NASA moved too slow to progress that plan. In the aftermath of the dotcom bust in 2000-2001, there was lots of silicon valley real estate available at affordable prices, including the Silicon Graphics building where the museum is now located.   The CHM needed to borrow $25M in Oct 2002, hoping that future fund raising would help pay the loan off.  (In fact, most of the $25K has been paid off with interest). In 2003, CHM opened its new building (previously occupied by Silicon Graphics), at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd in Mt View, CA.   There's seven acres of land and lots of parking spaces (although all may be taken for well attended events). The CHM curators created Visible Storage v2.0 (earlier versions were in TCM in Boston as well as the computer museum at Moffet Field).  It was a great exhibit and talking tool which helped with fund raising. In 2008, the CHM reinstituted the Fellows award which became quite popular. That same year, the museum ran out of space to hold all its artifacts.  So it bought a warehouse in Milpitas which is used to hold various artifacts, supplies and temporary exhibits. Author's Note: Len didn't get nearly as much air time as Gordon Bell during the 1 hour talk.  He wasn't able to explain how he and his colleagues were able to transform the small museum at Moffet Field into the existing CHMs stellar collection of artifacts and world class exhibits as well as the very popular "conversations" and panel sessions. ........................................................................................................................ Opportunity to Learn More:  Oct 9th IEEE meeting in Santa Clara, CA.
IEEE SV History Oct 9th meeting: Origins & History of the Computer History Museum
Given the importance of computers to our civilization, why are there so few museums dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of the Information Age?  The Computer History Museum  (CHM) is the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society.
In 2014 the museum celebrates its 35th anniversary, dated from its roots as The Computer Museum in Boston in 1979. Come hear its two leaders, the Chairman of the Board (Len Shustek) and the President/CEO (John Hollar), describe the joys, frustrations, and ultimate success of that odyssey.  
There are several interesting CHM stories that will be told for the first time, which will surely captivate the audience.  You'll also get to learn about the professional lives of Len and John along with their passion and motivation for the history of computing.  That should be very interesting, informative and entertaining. More information including bio's and registration link is available here.

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